From the CEO: Skills classification re-vamp can’t come quick enough as we struggle to find drivers

Performance based standards, pbs, nhvr, NatRoad, NatRoad webinar,

Read time: 3 mins

By Warren Clark

Originally published in Deals on Wheels Issue 498

Somebody I know went into “secret shopper” mode last week to explore the state of Australia’s truck driver shortage.

“Secret shopper” is a strategy routinely adopted by businesses testing their own services to see if they are “customer friendly”.

They send an undercover employee to the aisles of a Bunnings or Myer to find out what shoppers experience. 

In this instance, the exercise involved poking around the Federal Government’s skills classification website where various occupations are given a skills classification.

It’s important because the skills level given to an occupation determines their priority in the immigration queue when a driver applies for a visa to come and work here.

The bad news was that the website was broken.

Its search engine didn’t even bring up Truck Driving as an occupation.

Manually moving through the site, the secret shopper reached page 73 before a message appeared on the screen saying: “The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later”.

In the scheme of things, a government website not doing what it should on a given day isn’t the world’s biggest problem.

But our system for finding drivers to deliver on the freight task needs urgent repair.

It’s not just drivers that are in short supply.

We don’t have enough heavy diesel mechanics and technicians or supervisors and managers with the expertise to support our industry.

The problem is acute in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The road transport industry put these issues on the table for the newly-minted Albanese Government at its pre-Jobs Summit round table in September 2022.

It was suggested that the Government redesignate truck driving as skill level 3 under the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) rather than the current skill level 4.

The Government was asked to add truck driving to the Australian Apprenticeship Priority List (which determines eligibility for training support payments) and the Trade Support Loans Priority List.

And it was asked to add truck driving to the skilled migration visa system, provided that applicants migrating to Australia undertake driver training here and hold an Australian driving licence of the required class.

All of this has been caught up in a broader review of the Australian Immigration System, which took a year, received almost 500 written submissions and produced a 190-page report which was delivered in March this year.

The report doesn’t mention truck driving and is more concerned with the bigger picture.

There are broader issues at play and they demand a whole-of-industry approach.

NatRoad is not alone in saying the existing heavy vehicle driver licensing system is not up to scratch.

Drivers can obtain a licence without the competencies that employers need.

They can move from one licence class to the next without gaining experience behind the wheel.

If they’re arriving from overseas, there’s no national standard of competencies for them to prove that they meet.

Women are grossly under-represented in road transport and a big reason why is that they don’t feel comfortable with the current standard of roadside rest stop facilities.

And at the risk of repeating myself, the mindset behind enforcement of Heavy Vehicle National Law needs to change from one of penalising drivers for minor breaches for the hell of it, rather than being driven by safety.

That last one is pushing people out of our industry at a time when we can least afford to lose them.

The driver shortage is a global problem but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and wait for somebody somewhere else to solve it.

This is enough of an issue to require a summit of industry and government in the interests of our national economy.